March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

march-1INFORMATION

Goodreads: March: Book One
Series:  March #1
Source: Library
Published: 2013

SUMMARY

Congressman John Lewis shares his life story, beginning in book one with his youth in Alabama and his activity with the Nashville Student Movement as they protested segregation through lunch counter sit-ins.

Review

March is a powerful book that tells the story of Congressman John Lewis’s life, beginning with his childhood in Alabama and continuing through his participation in the Nashville Student Movement.  No doubt many educators will find this a useful tool to discuss civil rights in the classroom, but general readers will also find themselves by turns saddened, shocked, and inspired.  The book truly makes history come alive, and reminds readers of just how tenuous civil rights can be.

Perhaps one of the more striking aspects of the book is Lewis’s willingness to engage with the nuances of the Civil Rights movement.  The story makes quite clear that, just because a law has been passed, that does not mean all citizens are treated equally.  Brown v. the Board of Education passed, and yet Lewis could not go downtown and be served lunch.  Nor could his white friends if they were with him.  And the local political leaders tried to walk the line by giving verbal support to the law while also maintaining stores had the right to serve whom they liked.

Lewis furthermore digs into the nuances of the responses given by the Black community.  While he and his friends attended training workshops on peaceful protests, were arrested for trying to integrate lunch counters, and refused to pay into the system by posting bail, some Black leaders suggested that simply being arrested was to make enough of a point–they should post bail and go.  Furthermore, some called for the dismissal of James Lawson from his grad school because he led lunch counter sit-ins.  Lewis saw it as a division between the older and the younger generations, and their approach towards reaching equality.  History is more complicated and less linear than the textbooks sometimes suggest.

So whether you’re hoping to learn more about the Civil Rights movement or simply looking for a powerful and moving read, you’re sure to find something in March.  It’s just as eye-opening as I expect Lewis hoped it would be.

5 starsKrysta 64

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

thousandth-floorInformation

Goodreads: The Thousandth Floor
Series: The Thousandth Floor #1
Source: Library
Published: August 30, 2016

Official Summary

A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. Everyone there wants something…and everyone has something to lose.

LEDA COLE’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched.

ERIS DODD-RADSON’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart.

RYLIN MYERS’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will this new life cost Rylin her old one?

WATT BAKRADI is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy for an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies.

And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is AVERY FULLER, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

Amid breathtaking advancement and high-tech luxury, five teenagers struggle to find their place at the top of the world. But when you’re this high up, there’s nowhere to go but down….

Review

When I started The Thousandth Floor, I expected it to be a “guilty pleasure” type read, light but engaging with its portrayal of the lives of rich, glamorous teens in a futuristic Manhattan.  That’s pretty much what it is, though I’m not entirely sure about the “engaging” bit.  While brainstorming this review, I realized I have to very little to say about the book.  It’s about rich teens who spend their time shopping, drinking, and plotting petty revenge on the people who are ostensibly their friends.  The entertainment is supposed to come from watching their sordid little lives fall apart, I suppose, since even the rich and powerful have dark secrets.

The real problem with the novel is that, since everyone is petty and vengeful, they’re very difficult to like.  I can get behind flawed, realistic characters, but these characters are, by and large, really horrible people.  It’s hard not to feel they half-deserve anything bad that happens to them.  I wasn’t really rooting for any of them to solve their problems, and I’m not very interested in reading the sequel.  I’m also not a fan of casual use of hard drugs or underage drinking, and there’s a lot of that in this book. Basically, I would have avoided these people like the plague if I’d known them in high school, and I have the same gut reaction of dislike reading about them in a book.  There are maybe two characters who border on “likable” for me, and that’s not enough to make me emotionally invested in the novel or a whole series.

I did somewhat enjoy the world-building. Who doesn’t want to read about the lives of the ultra-rich 100 years in the future, where practically anything seems possible with technology?  However, I did get the impression that the setting was chosen mostly to add glamour to the story.  Since it wasn’t really “the point” in some sense, it wasn’t fully fleshed out.

The series is being billed as futuristic Gossip Girl (and like Gossip Girl, comes from Alloy Entertainment). I think it’s fair to say that if Gossip Girl-esque stories are your genre, this novel might be for you.  If you’re not into watching the lives of rich teens crash and burn, the novel doesn’t have much else to offer you.

3 stars Briana

Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

worlds-of-ink-and-shadowINFORMATION

Goodreads: Worlds of Ink and Shadow
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2016

SUMMARY

Charlotte and Branwell Brontë possess the secret of literally jumping into their imaginary world of Verdopolis, and their sister Emily is tired of being left behind.  Once all three of them, along with Anne, travelled there together as the all-powerful Genii, but now the elder Brontës keep that power to themselves.  Charlotte and Branwell, however, pay a price the others do not see.  Will the four of them ever be able to escape the mysterious hold that Verdopolis has on them?

Review

Worlds of Ink and Shadow works very well as a fantasy novel, but will probably appeal most readers who possess some knowledge both of the Brontës’ literary work and of their biographies.  Inspired by their juvenalia, full of references to their later works, and grounded in the tragedy of the sisters’ mistreatment at a boarding school, the book’s resonances fully come alive only for those who have the ability to catch all the references.  Even without them, however, the story is an engrossing and somewhat spooky read, the kind that will haunt readers as they devour it through the night.

Coakley expertly weaves biographical details of the Brontës’ lives into this fantasy, playing most with their juvenalia but also alluding to Branwell’s alcohol problem, the death of the elder Brontë sisters (Maria and Elizabeth), Emily’s penchant for wild things and dangerous men, and Charlotte’s dismal expectations as an impoverished woman.  I could easily imagine that much of this would make little sense to the uninitiated, especially because we do not now associate the Brontës with fantasy writing and Charotte Brontë receives most of the general populace’s attention.  However, it’s an incredibly fun read for people who love the Brontës, and it never seems stretched or far-fetched. Coakley seamlessly merges the fantastical with real life.

The fantastic side of this story is highly engrossing, featuring the Brontës jumping into the literary world of Verdopolis that they have created.  There the villain Alexander Rogue dissolutely drinks, kidnaps women, and duels with his rival, the heroic Zamorna–a perfect man if he were not such a womanizer.  But it takes much strength for the Brontës to continue to guide the story and at times it seems that the characters might be breaking free.  Might even suspect that they are being played with like puppets.  And soon the world the Brontës thought of as their own threatens to turn on them.

So whether you enjoy the writings of the Brontë sisters or a good fantasy or a good historical fantasy, this may just be the book for you.  It feels fresh and original, avoiding the usual tropes of YA to focus instead on the power of stories and the bonds between siblings.  Hopefully we’ll see much more of Coakley’s work.

5 starsKrysta 64

Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

poisoned-bladeInformation

Goodreads: Poisoned Blade
Series:  Court of Fives #2
Source: Library
Published: August 16, 2016

Official Summary

Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives—the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons in her embattled kingdom. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on Jes’s traveling party puts her at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos—the prince she still loves—is fighting against their country’s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion…She must become a warrior.

Review

Poison Blade picks up right where Court of Fives left off, a somewhat rare event in YA series these days.  Because there was no time lapse between the books, I was able to get immersed in the story immediately and quickly recall the major events from the first installment.  Jessamy’s determination and scrappy attitude drew me in as she continued on her quest to save her family.

Admittedly, the pacing slows in the middle, and there were places I was tempted to skim. I’m not one to always be interested in long, drawn-out descriptions of fights, for instance, when what happens in the fight itself turns out to be irrelevant, and only the actual outcome matters to plot or character development.  I think this book could have been shorter and conveyed the same amount of information.  However, I was interested in the overall plot, especially as the stakes continue to get higher for Jessamy and her family.

There’s also just a hint of character development for many of the characters, main and side, which I would love to see more of in book three.  Jessamy’s father’s new wife is particularly interesting to me, though Elliott focuses a bit more on Jessamy’s sisters. (Who, honestly, are still squabbling a bit more than I find charming.  Sisterly fights are of course realistic, but I seriously wonder if these girls even like each other at times.)  I understand that Elliott might be trying to differentiate them and show that Jessamy doesn’t speak for them all, but there are also characters I find more complex and engaging, and I want to see what they do with the revolution that seems to be coming.

Poisoned Blade has its flaws, but I’ve been giving up on so many series recently, that I think any series that keeps my attention is doing something right. I look forward to seeing what Jessamy gets up to next.

4 stars Briana

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor-and-parkINFORMATION

Goodreads: Eleanor and Park
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2013

SUMMARY

Eleanor’s clothes don’t fit quite right.  Her sense of style is loud.  He body type isn’t the ideal.  And the kids at her new school are determined to make her feel unwelcome because of it.  But then she meets Park.  He’s cool and attractive and everything she’s not.  But, somehow, he seems to like her anyway.

Review

I do not typically read romances and I have even started reading less YA as the number of books with similar plots and premises has made me feel discouraged about the amount of originality to be found on the shelves.  How many dypstopians can one read before they all sound the same?  However, Eleanor and Park captured my heart from the start.  With its sensitively-drawn characters, its realistic look at high school and the pain of growing up, its unique character voices, and its beautiful prose style,  this book stands apart.

Eleanor and Park is charmingly told through the perspectives of both titular characters so readers can follow the evolution of their relationship through both sides.  We see Eleanor’s disastrous first day on the bus through the eyes of Park, who wishes to remain untainted by her distinct un-coolness.  We see how Park begins to look past Eleanor’s weird clothes and realizes that she’s beautiful and smart and confident.  We see Eleanor’s painful home life, and learn the real reason she dresses in strange clothes–not because that’s necessarily her style, but because her family can afford nothing else.  We realize Eleanor is not as cool and confident as Park believes.  We see what both hides from the other, and the way they navigate their relationship as a result.  Very often perspective-switching is just annoying for readers, but Rowell uses it here effortlessly to tell a story that could be told no other way.

Eleanor’s home life is one of the most compelling parts of this story.  Her family is living in poverty.  Eleanor gets no new clothes.  She and her siblings are hungry.  She uses the same soap for everything–hair, body, dishes.  She doesn’t even own a toothbrush.  And her stepfather?  He hates her.  And her mother does little to protect her.  Eleanor is alone and won’t ask for help, won’t be a burden on anyone, even though she’s afraid all the time because she knows how close she is to the edge.  She’s seen too often how little anyone cares to help.

Park, meanwhile, remains good-naturedly oblivious.  He knows that Eleanor cannot go out, cannot be seen with him.  But he does not really know.  He thinks “My stepfather will kill me” is an expression.  He cannot imagine a stepfather who really would.  And even after he begins to piece together parts of Eleanor’s home life, he never comments on it.  He seems to have no revelations about why Eleanor wears strange clothes or why she is so often flustered and scared and tired.  His world is too far from hers.

But their divergent worlds is part of what makes their story so charming.  Eleanor and Park, on the surface, should not work–but they do.  And Rowell delivers every moment of the teenage rush of first love in careful, beautiful, exuberant prose.  Eleanor and Park are alive and their time together is infinite and rushed and loud and soft and absolutely perfect even when it is flawed.  They are still very young.

Eleanor and Park stole my breath with its beautiful romance and its devastating close.  Teenage love is a fragile thing, and Rowell handles it delicately.  She has readers believing along with the protagonists, at least for a moment, that true love can stop a world from breaking.

Krysta 645 stars

Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West

kingdom-of-ash-and-briarsInformation

Goodreads: Kingdom of Ash and Briars
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 2016

Summary

When teenager Bristal is tossed into the cursed Water in the Woods, she expects to die. Instead, she emerges as an elicromancer, one of the most powerful magic workers to live in centuries. Yet power comes with a price, and Bristal is soon caught up in a plot of dark elicromancy that could lay waste to an entire kingdom if she fails to make all the right choices.  Threads of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and other classic tales emerge as Bristal fights for her people.

Review

Kingdom of Ash and Briars is one of those books I really, really wanted to like but just couldn’t.  The jacket copy promises Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Mulan, all wrapped up in an overarching “gritty fairy tale gone wrong.”  This sounds excellent, but the way West goes about it is immeasurably disappointing, as none of the fairy tales in the book are given the time they really deserve.

West tries to cram a lot of action into a small space, and the result is extremely bad pacing.  Conflicts are all resolved within pages of being introduced.  There is no development, no suspense.  It’s all quite episodic and choppy.  This applies to some of the fairy tales,  as well.  The Cinderella aspect is a side note of about two chapters.  And, of course, that means characters are not developed either.  There is a of telling and very little showing because there simply is no time for it.  Instalove is a common issue.

[Minor Spoilers Next Paragraph]

Because of this, I was simply never really invested in Bristal or her issues. Of course, Bristal often seems barely invested in her own problems.  For instance, she is whisked away from her home to study magic once she becomes an elicromancer–and home never comes up again.  Apparently she wasn’t really attached to anyone she used to know.  I know she’s an orphan, but she was adopted and ought to have felt some responsibility towards her adoptive mother and any friends she had.  Even weirder, roughly 16 years pass between the start of the novel when Bristal gains her powers and the story proper.  This means Bristal must be roughly 30 years old, yet the book never drops the YA tone or the teenage voice for Bristal herself.  There was a huge disconnect for me here.

Finally, a lot of the story was simply cliche.  This was not because of the references to fairy tales, which could make any retelling “predictable” in some way.  It was simply that everything fit into a neat little pattern of perfection, in ways that are overused in fantasy in particular.  There are times cliches are satisfying, but I found this book just exhausting.

I was really looking forward to Kingdom of Ash and Briars.  I wish I had more good things to say.  Unfortunately, I wanted to DNF about 10 pages in and only finished because I was required to, having agreed to review the book for another site. I have to recommend passing on this one.

2 stars Briana

The Reader by Traci Chee

the-readerInformation

Goodreads: The Reader
Series: Sea of Ink and Gold #1
Source: Library
Published: September 2016

Official Summary

Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.

Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father left behind, something she comes to realize is a book.

Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed. With no time to lose, and the unexpected help of swashbuckling pirates and an enigmatic stranger, Sefia sets out on a dangerous journey to rescue her aunt, using the book as her guide. In the end, she discovers what the book had been trying to tell her all along: Nothing is as it seems, and the end of her story is only the beginning.

Review

The Reader lures its audience in with the concept of a horrifyingly empty world—one where books do not exist and no one knows how to read.  At least, it’s supposed to.  Personally, I couldn’t care less that The Reader is a book about books; I enjoyed it mostly for its fantasy/adventure aspects.   I liked the characters and the quest and the romance and the pirates.  The parts about books actually fell flat for me, and I felt free to ignore them.

In the first place, The Reader does not fully explore what it means to be a world without books, which I think is a disservice to oral culture.  The very first page mentions this culture with seeming reverence.  Chee writes, “They remembered their histories with their voices and bodies, repeating them over and over until the stories became part of them, and the legends were as real as their own tongues and lungs and hearts.”  This passage is moving, but basically that’s all the audience gets.   There are, remarkably, practically no storytellers in this book whom Sefia ever encounters.  A few characters are said to be thirsty for stories to collect and retell, but the references are always in passing.  There are also vague references to the fact the “news boys” stand and shout the news in the market rather than selling papers, or to the fact that shop signs use symbols rather than words.  Yet Chee, in her quest to exalt the book and the written word, missed a profound opportunity to actually portray an oral culture.

Despite this, the message that books are marvelous is actually less heavy-handed than I initially featured. However, I did think it could have been more complex.  Chee tries to access the feelings one would have upon first discovering words and reading, but glosses over the moment too quickly to do it justice. Sefia is obsessed with the first line she ever reads, “This is a book,” which I think is highly relatable and realistic.  However, the follow-up is simplistic.  The question is “Is anything with words written on it a book?” To which I want to just say “no” and mutter about conflating texts and books and such.  And then there’s a lot of heavy-handed stuff about books containing all the knowledge in the world and knowledge being power, etc.

This didn’t overly trouble me as I was reading the novel because I was really invested in the characters and the adventure of the plot.  Sefia is a strong protagonist, confident and skilled, but with enough flaws to make her believable.  She’s rounded out by companions with complementary skills, which I thought was great.  I loved following her on her adventures as she ran from murderers, tried to track down her kidnapped aunt, and looked for answers about her parents and the mysterious book they left behind.  The fact that Sefia was carrying a book at all was irrelevant to me.  I think I would have liked the novel just as much if she’d been carrying an enchanted brick or a magic block of cheese.

Readers, really, get a little bit of everything that makes fantasy great.  Feuding kingdoms. Secret societies.  Assassins. Pirates.  Mysteries. Romance.  I guess the book was supposed to be deep, but mostly I just thought it was fun.   I feel obliged to drop at least a start off the rating because I do think Chee missed her goal in writing a “book about books.”  Still, despite the fact I have no idea what the second book is going to be about (Sefia has more questions than answers at this point) I do know that I want to read it.  And since I drop so many series after reading only book one, that’s pretty high praise from me.

4 stars Briana